George Lucas loses Stormtrooper copyright suit in U.K.

English Supreme Court sides with the prop designer who created the original Stormtrooper helmet, who sells replicas for a few grand a pop in the U.K. Copyright in the U.S., however, gets upheld.

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Eric Mack
2 min read
Ainsworth has been making replicas for years. Shepperton Design Studios

George Lucas lost a battle over copyright infringement in an English court this week.

In this case, of course, Lucas didn't turn out to be the father of his adversary, Andrew Ainsworth, but he is the creator of one of Ainsworth's signature works. Ainsworth is the guy who manufactured the original Stormtrooper helmets for the Star Wars movies.

Ainsworth lives in London and has been selling replicas of his magnum opus for several years now. A long court battle between the prop designer and Lucas appears to finally be over now that the director's legal Deathstar has been fully obliterated by Britain's Supreme Court, which has ruled in favor of Ainsworth.

The court upheld an earlier ruling finding that he could continue selling the replicas because they were deemed to be industrial works rather than creative pieces of art, and therefore not subject to the full protections of copyright. That ruling found that as 3D objects, but not sculptures, the Stormtrooper helmets were only subject to a 15-year copyright, which has since expired.

A Lucasfilm spokesman called the decision an "anomaly" under British law that would have ended differently in most other systems, according to a BBC report.

Ainsworth has been selling the replicas for a few thousand dollars a piece for several years. In 2004, he was sued for $20 million by Lucas in a U.S. court that ultimately sided with the billionaire. But because Ainsworth has no assets in the U.S., the decision could not be enforced and the case moved across the Atlantic.

Unfortunately for American cosplayers, the British court's ruling has no effect on Ainsworth's status in the U.S. And in fact, the court ruled that Lucas' American copyright had been violated. It held that violation to be enforceable in the U.K. and banned Ainsworth from selling the masks in the U.S. If only there were some sort of global network of information and commerce that could circumvent international borders and judiciaries... But enough with the science fiction for now.